Skip to main content

Full text of "The History Of Western Education"

See other formats


half of the century escaped imprisonment and persecution, at
one time or another. The lower classes, for their part, were kept
in hopeless poverty by the demands of the tax-gatherer, and by
the exactions of absentee landlords who retained the privileges
of their rank but evaded all its duties.

The revolt against this evil system began with the men of
letters under the leadership of Voltaire (1694-1778). During
three years' banishment in England Voltaire came strongly under
the influence of the revolutionary thought which found diverse
expression in the scientific discoveries of Newton, the indivi-
dualistic philosophy of Locke, and the anti-clerical deism ex-
pounded in Pope's Essay on Man ; and for the next fifty years he
continued to work out the lessons he had learned at this time
in a voluminous output of dramatic, historical and theological
works. The English point of view was still further developed by
Diderot and the writers associated with him in the production
of the Encyclopedic; and through them it passed into the common
thought of the times in the movement of Enlightenment. In the
nature of the case this Enlightenment took the most diverse forms.
So far as there was any bond of union among the " enlightened "
it was not in any close identity of beliefs or opinions, but in a
common attitude of mind to current problems. They were all
more or less in rebellion against the existing order of things, and
to that extent they were individualists like the Englishmen who
had given the first impulse to the movement. Their working
creed—if it can be called a creed—was a critical rationalism that
insisted on viewing all things in heaven and earth in the cold light
of reason, and rejected any authority, whether ecclesiastical or
political, that could not justify itself to the common sense of the
individual thinker.

At the outset the anarchic effects of this view were kept within
narrow bounds by the risks of persecution. But as soon as it
was discovered that it was less dangerous to attack the Church
than the State, a vigorous onslaught was made on the evils of
clericalism and the foolishness of the Church's doctrines; and
here the critics scored an amazing success. So complete was the
disrepute into which they were able to bring everything pertaining
to religion that even the noble classes which had hitherto been the
allies of the Church joined forces with its opponents; and largely
in consequence of this the Jesuit Order, which next to the